Today we’re covering the Hotel Nacional cocktail in honor of Meyer Lansky, the infamous “Mob’s Accountant.” The drink was the house special at the Hotel Nacional, where in 1946 Lansky hosted a summit of all the major mob bosses. The timing is inspired by Lansky fleeing Cuba on January 7, 1959. Lansky, of course, had a colorful crime career, and we’ll cover that along with the Hotel Nacional recipe.
Meyer Lansky (nee Meier Suchowlański) was a Polish Jew born in 1902. He emigrated with his mother and brother to the U.S. in 1911 and settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There through his teenage years he befriended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. If either of those two names rings a bell you can tell where this is going.
Lansky was good at math and understood the true odds of casino games. He also had the right mob connections for security. When you combine that with bribes to law enforcement he was well set to become a casino kingpin. By 1936 he had gambling operations in Florida, New Orleans and Cuba.
Lansky’s buddy Lucky Luciano had been sent to jail for pandering in 1936. Shortly after WWII he was paroled under the condition that he permanently return to Sicily. Naturally, he secretly moved to Cuba instead. There he ran a number of casinos with the sanction of Cuba’s authoritarian dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
Lansky’s Time in Cuba
Eventually the U.S. government pressured Batista to deport Luciano and Lansky stepped in. He and Batista agreed that in exchange for kickbacks Lansky and the Mafia would control the racetracks and casinos. Batista also offered to match, dollar for dollar, any hotel investment over $1 million.
Lansky became the kingpin of Cuba’s gambling operations. To encourage investment and expand operations he called on his fellow mob bosses to hold a summit in Havana. So what’s known as the Havana Conference took place in late 1946 and was the first full-scale meeting of the group since 1932. They even flew Frank Sinatra in to provide entertainment. Naturally, this all occurred at the Hotel Nacional.
Lansky and his buddies were making loads of money, but the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro spoiled that party. On New Year’s Eve 1958 Lansky was celebrating the $3 million he’d made over the first year at his new hotel, the Habana Riviera.
Fidel made the celebration short lived. On January 7, 1959, the day before Castro marched into Havana and took control, Lansky fled to the Bahamas. The good times in Cuba were over, crackdowns on casinos in Miami followed, and Lansky had to depend upon his Las Vegas revenues. Life was tough.
The Hotel Nacional Cocktail
The Hotel Nacional, upon opening in 1930, was Havana’s finest luxury resort. Perched on a hill in the center of Havana with a commanding view, it was frequented by stars and heads of state.
The Hotel Nacional cocktail was invented around the opening of the hotel and became the house drink. Eddie Woelke, an American Prohibition-era bartender there, claimed to have invented the drink under the name “Nacional.” He later published his recipe in his book Potions of the Caribbean. Charles H. Baker, in The Gentleman’s Companion, attributes the drink to the hotel’s general manager, Wil P. Taylor. We’ll never know.
Their recipes use the same ingredients but in different proportions. The drink itself is really a variation on a Daiquiri, augmenting the usual ingredients with a bit of pineapple juice and apricot liqueur. A variety of recipes are published. Here we present what we feel is a well balanced version of the drink.
Hotel Nacional Cocktail
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 2 oz Rum Best to use one ounce each of a white rum and a gold rum, but whatever you have on hand should work. Just be aware that using a dark, aged rum will probably overpower the other ingredients.
- 1 oz Pineapple juice
- ½ oz Fresh lime juice
- ¼ oz Apricot brandy
- Simple syrup Optional, if you prefer to sweeten it.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.
- Rinse and repeat.